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Sheikh Jarrah: Palestinian family threatens to burn home as Israel attempts expulsion

Members of the Salhiya family barricaded themselves on the roof in protest against the evacuation of the 40 people who live on the property
Palestinian men hold a gas tank on the roof of a house, as Israeli police prepare to evict a family from the same building in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, 17 January 2022 (AFP)

A Palestinian man, whose family is facing imminent eviction from their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, threatened to set off gas canisters from the roof of the building on Monday, rather than let Israeli forces force the family out.

Dozens of Israeli police officers stormed the home of the Salhiya family in occupied East Jerusalem, where 40 people live, ordering them to evacuate their property.

Some family members refused to obey the Israeli police order and barricaded themselves on the roof with gas canisters, while a team of Israeli negotiators attempted to convince them to come down.

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Israeli media reported that Mahmoud Salhiya had threatened to set himself on fire if the eviction order was carried out. 

Late in the afternoon, Israeli forces erected metal barriers all along the road overlooking the Salhiya home, blocking the street of the building.

"We've been in this home since the 1950s," said Salhiya family member Abdallah Ikermawi from the roof of the home.

"We don't have anywhere to go," he said in quotes provided by the Sheikh Jarrah Committee organisation.

Sheikh Jarrah has been a significant flashpoint over the past year, after Israel tried to expel Palestinian families from the area last May to make way for Israeli settlers.

The events had led to widespread protests in the occupied West Bank and Israel's mixed cities of Arabs and Jews, and a large-scale military operation in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces on Monday prevented activists, journalists and UN workers from entering the area, located north of Jerusalem's Old City, leaving the Salhiyas to face the eviction order alone.

Meanwhile, Instagram blocked Palestinian activist Muna el-Kurd from live streaming Israeli forces preparing to expel the family from their home to her 1.6 million followers. 

'I will burn myself'

After a 10-hour standoff, police forces left the area, and people were able to reach the Salhiya home. 

Salhiya spoke to journalists gathered outside the house, reiterating that he and his family will not leave.

"We don't want death. But we have been expelled from our homeland again and again. We are already dead. We are dead inside. We have been dead since 1948," he said.

Salhiya added police had attempted to arrest him earlier in the day, and have been trying for three days. He said they threatened to come back around midnight to expel him from the house.

"I will sleep next to the gas canister, I will not leave the roof of the house," he said.

"They can come back whenever they want, I will blow it up if they come again. They think they can scare us but I'm not afraid...this is ethnic cleansing."

Israel's Jerusalem municipality said that the Salhiyas have no right over the land that once belonged to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini, and which Israel confiscated after it captured the city in 1967 according to the Absentee Property Law.

Salhiya, who is married to a Jewish woman, Lital, said that his family was expelled from Ein Karm village in West Jerusalem in 1948, and lived in the area during Jordan rule, and owned their land since before 1967.

The family built the house over six dunams and it has an extension that was turned into a plant nursery to support them financially.

The family has been facing eviction since 2017, when their land was allocated for school construction, following 23 years in courts against the Israeli government, which issued an ultimatum in December for evaluation on 25 January.

"Whoever leaves his house is a traitor, we are not leaving the house. Either we die or we live. I will burn myself, my children and the house. We are not evacuating the house," Salhiya told local media from his roof earlier in the day, while carrying a gallon of petrol.

"They will only take [my house] as it burns."

UK consul-general

The Salhiya home is located opposite the British Consulate General in East Jerusalem.

Diane Corner, the British consul-general, was present with other diplomats in the area on Monday to "bear witness to the ongoing eviction" of the Palestinian family.

"Evictions in occupied territory are against international humanitarian law in all but the most exceptional circumstances," the British Consulate in Jerusalem tweeted, adding that "the UK urges the Government of Israel to cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground."

Salhiyas' home is also near Israel's Ministry of Interior and the sports grounds of the Hebrew University.

The area of Karm al-Mufti is almost 37 dunams, where Husseini built a mansion and the Shepherd Hotel was erected in the 1930s and 1950s, respectively. Husseini was the head of the British-founded Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem, and Palestine's prominent national leader prior to 1948.

In 2011, Israel demolished the Shepherd Hotel, which was owned by a pro-settlement American-Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz.

Israel planned to turn the Husseini mansion into a synagogue, as retribution for Husseini's contact with Nazi Germany during his years in exile.